journey post 27–Reality and the Resurrection … The starting point and why it matters
Evangelical Christianity has taken quite a beating in the past half-century, some of it self-inflicted. Hypocritical, legalistic, self-righteous, judgmental, irrelevant.… Such are the adjectives representative of common criticisms.
I’m not here to deny the criticisms: unfortunately, they are more valid than we Christians would like to think. Yet, while Christians are drawing an abundance of flak, Jesus seems to be doing alright with the people. Surveys indicate that Jesus remains one of the most popular people ever. One recent querie among Americans placed him and Abraham Lincoln at the top. (I don’t think it was the beard.) One of the most telling censures on Christians is one I’ve quoted before, offered up by Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi was deeply interested in Jesus and studied him and his teachings closely, and that fact has much to do with the non-violent strategy he applied to the fight for the liberation of India. He spent much time with Christians in England while studying to be a lawyer in the 1880s and 90s. He observed them closely. What he said captures the essence of any critique of those who claim to follow Jesus: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Things haven’t changed much….
Whether you like or dislike Christians, the issue in Christianity is actually not the people. The issue is and always will be one thing, one person: Jesus himself. But, how do we know that he is who he said he is?
Looking at his followers doesn’t seem to give us much help on this. True, Jesus told his followers to be salt and light. True, he told them that others would know that they were his disciples (i.e., apprentices who actually learned from him and lived it out) if they loved one another as he loved. And, true, they haven’t done this. So then: do we walk away, saying, “A pox on both your houses”? Many have walked away, bitter and frustrated at the legalistic and impossible demands of those they once looked up to.
There is a way to discover the truth. When I returned from Vietnam in 1969 with more questions than answers, it didn’t take long to realize that there was only one question that really begged … SCREAMED … for an answer. It was not the question of myth: whether Jesus actually lived or not. I was surprised to learn that even most atheists or skeptics don’t deny that he was an actual person. Nor do most deny his claim to be the Messiah (Christ), nor that he was a great teacher—nor that he was crucified.
The central question was and always is the resurrection. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The resurrection was the message that the apostles preached, the validation of who Jesus is and what he died for. The empty tomb is the sine qua non of Christianity. Without it, Christianity is a deluded religion, foisted upon deluded people by a well-meaning but deluded leader—or a charlatan—people who are left with no forgiveness, left with no hope. C. S. Lewis forced me to ponder whether he was a liar, or a lunatic, or just who he said he was—those are, pretty much, the available options.
I began this blog, lo these many months ago, seeking to recount my zigzag journey. I wanted to work up from those first questions, proceed through my search, and come up with the evidence for the resurrection, and go on from there. Presto! But as I reflected on my own journey, I remembered that one of my primary reasons for doing this gig was to help others avoid some of the same pitfalls and zigzags that this Donkey failed to see. Much of what I did not see was because my own assumptions (read that: pride) left me thinking I could do this on my own—not a very healthy way of approaching God, after all. It took some 35 years for me go from the empty tomb to recognizing a big problem in my life: that I lived on a performance treadmill. I lived on that contraption because my functional theology was operating from a fundamentally wrong view of God, a God who seemed more interested in making me know my place than in enjoying my company. This is the reason I zigzagged from my initial idea and spent time writing and thinking about the conscience God gave us, what it means that God is a father who delights in his children—and allows evil in this world.
If I could lead you to the door of the empty tomb itself, you might still question why it matters at all. If you’re one of those (most people) who see God primarily as judge (or worse), waiting to highlight your every flaw for all the universe to see, why in the world would you want to get to know such a being and spend your life trying to live up to his impossible expectations—much less spend eternity in his presence? But, just perhaps, the reality and your thinking don’t quite match up? If you’d like to find out, the door of the tomb is a good place to start. Ready?